Hamilton greets prospects after first Rangers workout
Newly acquired outfielder poses for photos with young Padres in Surprise
By Jesse Sanchez
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Early Tuesday, the Padres' prospects lined up one by one to snap a photo with their baseball hero.
It was moments before the start of an extended spring camp game against Rangers prospects on a back field at the Surprise Recreation campus, and one of San Diego's Minor League players spotted Josh Hamilton walking past their dugout. The veteran outfielder had just completed his first workout since he was reunited with the Rangers, and he was feeling sentimental.
Hamilton shook hands and posed for photos with players such as first baseman Jonas Lantigua, who tweeted, "Nice to meet my favorite baseball player today! Thanks Josh!"
Hamilton smiled, and inside, he was remembering where it all began.
"I think the biggest thing is that it reminded me of where I was at one time," Hamilton said. "What a long road it has been, and the ups and downs and the good and bad. You know the whole thing just makes me feel appreciative."
Hamilton was with the Rangers for five years starting in 2008, and he was instrumental in helping them go to consecutive World Series in 2010-11. He signed a five-year, $125 million contract with the Angels in '12, but injuries and a drop in his offensive production marred his two years in Anaheim. The Angels decided to sever the relationship after an alcohol and drug relapse during offseason, and the club traded him to the Rangers.
The deal with Texas was finalized Monday.
"It was humbling to still work and still put the time and effort in not knowing for sure what the outcome is going to be," Hamilton said. "But I really feel blessed, and like it was a miracle to be back here."
Throughout the hour-long training session and even during his post-workout interview, Hamilton wore white-rimmed sunglasses to shield him from the bright Arizona sun. The lenses also offer some much-needed relief. On Monday night, Hamilton's daughters put makeup, including eyeliner, on their father. He spent hours afterward trying to rub the mascara off, and his eyelids were still sensitive.
Hamilton was originally scheduled to fly out of Dallas on Monday night, but he cancelled his trip to play with his kids. Instead, he woke up at 3:30 a.m. CT Tuesday for an early flight to Arizona. He drove into the Rangers' Spring Training complex with Shayne Kelley, his accountability partner, at 9:20 a.m.
Minutes later, Hamilton was on the field doing conditioning drills and playing catch with Napoleon Pichardo, the club's Minor League strength and conditioning coordinator, as roving outfielder instructor Dwayne Murphy looked on.
Hamilton later moved into the batting cage and hit off a tee under Murphy's guidance. The outfielder expects a rapid progression during his stay in Arizona before he departs for a rehab assignment with Triple-A Round Rock in nine days. Texas expects to activate him in mid-to-late May.
Hamilton answered questions about his health by saying that he sent a video to the Rangers of him hitting at "full-go" on March 9. He later added that offseason surgery on his shoulder consisted of shaving his AC joint, cleaning up his rotator cuff and labrum along with removing a bursa sac that "was blown to pieces."
"In Surprise, it felt great, but I've been doing baseball activities for a long time now," Hamilton said. "It was [great] to get out there and just see other guys in uniform and be on the field and get in the cage. It just brings back good memories of being here."
Hamilton is back to appreciate the little things in life, little things like having his own locker, even if it is in the Minor League clubhouse. The fact that the locker is next to his buddies Matt Harrison and Martin Perez, who are also in Surprise rehabbing their injuries, is a bonus.
Hamilton didn't have a locker in the Angels' clubhouse during Spring Training or during the regular season. There were reports that merchandise with his name on it was taken out of the team store.
"It feels gooood," Hamilton said of finally getting a locker. "It's been tough for the last 11 weeks or so. Not knowing what was going to happen or where I was going to be. Everything that was transpiring was tough. It's good to have something that has been consistent in my life that I can remember back in it. It's going to be fun the next few days to do more and more every day."
On his time rehabbing in Houston, Hamilton said he felt "on my own and removed from a game that I wasn't ready to be removed from."
"I remember a couple of times riding to my physical therapy in Houston and we'd drive by the ballpark every day, and I remember of couple of times making comments that I felt so removed from the game and it's humbling," Hamilton said. "So I want to make sure it doesn't happen again."
The question remains: How will Hamilton make sure he does not have another relapse? By his own account, the outfielder said he has had relapses in 2009, '12 and this year.
"Just continue putting people around me and bring people back around me and certainty in my life that were there when things were going good, and things were going well and working," Hamilton said.
The Padres' Minor Leaguers only wanted photos with Hamilton on Tuesday, but he would have offered advice if they would have asked him.
"Try not to talk too much as a young guy, stay humble and be coachable," Hamilton said. "Take advice from players who have been around longer than you and pick their brains and have fun."
Hamilton would have offered the same advice to his 18-year-old self.
"That's exactly what I did," Hamilton said. "I just made a couple of bad choices off the field."
Jesse Sanchez is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.